I recently visited with a friend who works on a Forest Service timber marking crew. Her crew is regularly sent out on fires, and she's been fighting fire and working in the woods for years. Though her clunky old boots are splattered with marking paint and pretty well beat up, the leather is in surprisingly good shape. She told me why.
I later mentioned Obenauf's leather preservative to a timber faller friend, and he declared that this stuff is the best boot grease in the world.
Obenauf's Heavy Duty LP is a leather preservative produced by Marv Obenauf, an Idaho wildland firefighter. The stuff is made from a beeswax/propolis formula that Obenauf developed. Propolis, he says, is a tree resin with anti-bacterial properties, so the formula provides a durable barrier against chemicals and resists bacteria and mildew.
Obenauf was a firefighter for 31 years, and says he ruined quite a few expensive boots before they had a chance to wear out. He went looking for a product that would protect his boots from heat, retardant, and the lye formed from wet ashes. He couldn't find what he was looking for. Most of the leather cleaners and preservatives on the market were designed to repel water or just soften the leather. "They were very temporary and would slough off or dissipate when subjected to heat or scuffing," he says. "Some used chemicals that caused irreparable damage to the leather fibers. The consensus was that the only way to protect our boots against such elements was to stay out of those conditions, as we were baking the leather and literally cooking our boots in lye."
Obenauf experimented with different recipes till he had a formula that worked well, and he's been making the stuff ever since. Beyond boots, the stuff is great for canvas and oilskin, and has even been used to condition leather washers in pumps.
It even makes good lip balm, according to Jim Klassen, owner of Hells Canyon Boots in Baker City, Oregon. "I have not found anything better," he says. "I sell the stuff at shows, but I also sell a lot of it for skin care. I put it on my lips and use it like chapstick. When I tell my customers about caring for their boots, I ask if you can't put a product on your skin, why do you want to put it on your boots?" Klassen says the LP will heal burns and cuts, and it's also his sunscreen of choice. "I even do foot massages with it," he says.
Despite all the extra duty Klassen puts the LP to, it is still first and foremost a boot care product. "You can scrap your other stuff," he says. "Other products might look similar, but they contain silicone, so the leather can't breathe. When you put silicone on leather, it seals it up and your feet sweat and the inside of the boot rots. I tell people to treat their boots like they do their hair -- wash on the inside and outside with shampoo, rinse them, and then put LP on the leather inside and out." Klassen recommends that it be applied to wet leather and allowed to air dry.
Obenauf's LP is by far the most user-friendly leather product I've used. It is almost scent-free, with just a bit of a honey/beeswax fragrance. It is neither slimey nor messy, and the texture is sort of buttery, but without the greasy leftover. Marv Obenauf claims the stuff will go a long way, and he's not fooling around about that -- you can take a little smidge about the size of an uncooked rice kernel and cover your hands with it -- it just spreads and spreads. It takes an astonishingly small amount to put a luxurious coat on a pair of boots.
Obenauf's is available from some firefighter supply outfits, it's carried by any logging supply shop worth the name, and can be ordered from the manufacturer.
NOTE: This story is © 1997 Kelly Andersson and may not be reproduced or distributed without written permission.